April 13, 2009

The "Transitory" Electoral Law

MABB © ®

Bolivia has reached a state of political crisis once again due to the discrepancies between opposition and government in generating a "transitional" Electoral Law. This law is supposed to provide legal framework for the December 6, 2009 general elections and the Prefect and municipal elections in 2010. It is transitional because, once the new Plurinational Assembly is elected in December, it will work on passing a new electoral law.

As usual, a "concerting" commission in Congress is handling the negotiations while the law is being debated on the floor. However, there are several points that still need agreement:

1. The overseas vote
2. The national voter registration list
3. The special indigenous seats

Since Thursday last week opposition and government could not agree on neither of these points. On the issue of special indigenous seats, the parties are still playing with numbers ganging from 14 to 8 seats. The organizations representing the indigenous groups demanded the government to give them 14 seats in Congress. The opposition has argued that this would generate imbalance in the representation ratio against urban areas, over representing rural areas where the population is less.

On the issue of the overseas vote, first, the National Electoral Court (J. L. Exeni) said the revision of the national voter registry and the implementation of a biometric voter registration system (one that registers photo, digital signature and finger prints) was not possible. Now, Exeni is promising to implement such a system in three months, after the government agreed on financing such a move.

To this it has to be added that there has been a series of observations, made by analysts arguing the national voter registry is being manipulated and thus not trustworthy. That is the reason the opposition insists on revising the list and making it secure against manipulation.

These disagreements have caused the opposition to walk out of the debate after Vice President and Congress President Garcia passed the law "en grande", meaning without detailed revision of each of its 80 articles. At the same time, the opposition move prompted the government to threaten a massive and voluntary resignation by MAS members of Congress. But, since this would not work for the government, the President Evo Morales decided to start a hunger strike. Below you can see the Bolivian President in hunger strike. Images from ABI.

The situation is favorably unfolding due to the government's agreement to implement and finance the biometric system of voter registration and the reduction of special indigenous seats in Congress.